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<nettime> From multiple names to Wu Ming
Enrica Pozzali Piersanti on 21 Jan 2001 21:54:33 -0000


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<nettime> From multiple names to Wu Ming


Usually, this newsletter is not posted to this list. I receive it once a
month. I thought it might be of great interest to some "nettimers". Won't
bother you anymore. Instructions below.

<epp>

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/Giap/digest #4 - From multiple names to Wu Ming - 21 January 2001


A four page feature from “Pulp libri” #29 [Italian bi-monthly review of
books], January-February 2001:

>From Multiple Names to Wu Ming

by Antonio Caronia

As many readers know, Wu Ming is the collective name adopted by four
Bologna-based promoters of the Luther Blissett Project (precisely the four
authors of *Q*) after the *seppuku*, the samurai-styled ritual suicide by
which they quit the "Luther Blissett" multiple name in December '99. The
fifth member is Riccardo Pedrini, former punk rock musician and martial
arts teacher, as well as author of the blood-chilling novel *Libera Baku
Ora* [Free Baku Now!] (Derive Approdi, January 2000). The latter book was
rare evidence that Italians have no genetic taint and can write
intelligent science-fiction even ignoring the legacy of Calvino and Primo
Levi.

    Wu Ming (chinese for "No name") is an artisan factory of literature
and culture. In less than one year of activities, they have created a
website (http://www.wumingfoundation.com) and an electronic newsletter
(/Giap/), published a novel (*Asce di guerra* [Axes of War]) and made a
short novel freely available on their website (*Pantegane e sangue* [Rats
and Blood]).  In the next twelve months they'll probably publish their
third novel, *54*.  Given that Wu Ming, as individuals, do a plenty of
other things - from the participation in the anti-globalization movements
to the practice of Thai boxing - this confirms a common saying about
post-Fordism: people are working much more than they did under Fordism. Of
course they work in a quite different way: in the past decades - the
Sixties, the Seventies etc. - Wu Ming would've run the risk of becoming (I
do not mean to offend anyone)  editors or advisors for some big publishing
house. Nowadays, they don't need to renounce their autonomy, nor are they
forced to fence themselves in an "underground" milieu which is too pleased
with marginality.

    Is this a "surrender" to the cultural industry, as some short-sighted
and envious people shout from the rooftops? If it is so, then it's a very
strange surrender. *Asce di guerra*, their first novel with the new alias,
doesn't give up the intransigent anti-capitalism and the comptent for the
official Left that characterized Luther Blissett in the Nineties. Wu Ming
have excavated stories from the Resistance and the early post-war years,
uncovering the rage against the stalinist/catholic compromise which
allowed the fascist personnel to return to their positions. In the
process, Wu Ming have demolished the traditional "nice-ist" imagery of the
Resistance handed down by the reformist Left. They've done it by teaming
up with Vitaliano Ravagli, the boy from Imola who was too young to fight
with the Partisans, got sick of the post-war restoration and went to "kill
fascists" in Indochina, joining the Lao guerrilla fighters. Ravagli is
both the co-author and a character in the book. [Ravagli and Wu Ming]
didn't want to propagandize a creed, nor did they aim at teasing the
"armchair radicals":  they just gave a voice to the "figures from the
background", those who were excluded from "History" and had to fight their
way out of silence, bet their life in the social war, all the while
remaining faithful to themselves.

    In order to debunk some distortions (including Luther Blissett's
supposed "Situationism") and get a better understanding of this book and
Wu Ming's work in general, we asked them a few questions.

    Q ended by acknowledging that "No plan can anticipate everything. Time
will not cease dispensing victories and defeats to those who keep on
fighting." The new novel starts by saying: "Stories are axes of war that
we must unbury." Do you mean that the past and the future have no immanent
rationality? Are they nothing other than sceneries, open to any individual
or collective will and intervention?

    <<Some charged *Q* with being fuelled by conspiracy paranoia. Quite
the contrary, it is a dissertation on the reactionary nature of conspiracy
theories confirming themselves *ad nauseam*. The character called Q
believes that "there is nothing new under the sun" out of the Church, that
is why he's named after *Qohelet* [Ecclesiastes], a book of the Old
Testament, of which this is the traditional interpretation, now questioned
by many scholars. Little by little Q's faith vacillates, the novel is the
chronicle of its disenchantment, the desertion of the best agent on the
last mile. If you like novels "in cipher", *Q*'s key is not in the
epilogue, it is in the last letter to Carafa, the one which Q fails to
send. The final sentence of the novel ("Let the action continue without
any plan") is only a sigh of relief, and we plagiarised it from (i.e. it
was a tribute to) Don De Lillo's *White Noise*.

    As to *Asce di guerra*, we object to the notion of the past as a
mausoleum we ought to garrison, or a memorial tablet we ought to polish
and embellish with plastic flowers. We are not interested in the "immanent
rationality" of an era, we want to know how a community in struggle can
make use of certain stories, we want to explore the link between the
reasons of the past and the present, between yesterday's junk food and
today's indigestion. When one looks at the "immanent rationality" of the
past, s/he takes the risk of justifying any position and choice in the
name of the "spirit of the times". That way, we'd end up blurring any
distinction between the Partisans and the [fascist] Black Shirts.>>

    Unlike Luther Blissett, Wu Ming is not a multiple name which anybody
can adopt. Moreover, your first names and surnames are not secret. You
have already explained that, and you're probably bored with repeating
things, but... could you explain one more time why you've changed tactics
since 1995?

    <<Since the beginning, our adhesion to the Luther Blissett Project was
based on a Soviet-styled Five Year Plan. Five years were enough to achieve
what we had in mind without getting bored and repetitive. Things went
better than in the USSR: there a factory would produce only left shoes, we
produced *Q*. It was a great hold-up, we reached the vault of popular
culture and left the self-referential shallows of “alternative culture”.
At the end of the Plan, it was normal to give up the multiple name, become
an enterprise and let the LB martial art evolve into further different
styles. Anyway, Wu Ming keeps many features from the previous project: the
anti-copyright stance, opacity towards the media, the work more important
than its author etc.>>


    The classic studies on the cultural industry (Adorno & Horkheimer,
Edgar Morin…) are all out of date, as is Marx's distinction between
productive and unproductive work. What is the relationship between the
descriptions of mental labor as directly *social* and your call to artists
(or "brainworkers", as you call them, or even "cognitarians", which is
Bifo's definition) to exploit the form of "autonomous political
enterprises"?


    << As we wrote in our *Declaration of Intents*, “the Intellectual” as
a figure separated from the whole of production has long passed away.  
Information is the most important productive force. The "cultural
industry"  has a symbiotic relationship with the entire galaxy of
commodities and services. The saying "All is multimedia" is already
pleonastic. Telling stories is just one of the many aspects of mental
labor, of a greater social co-operation integrating software programming,
industrial design, journalism, music, intelligence activities, social
services, gender politics etc. Mental labor is completely within the
networks of enterprise and production, indeed, it is their main driving
force. We must build up our companies, go beyond free-lancing, in order to
acquire more strength, get control on the production process and the
results of our creative labor.  However, we must set up *political*
enterprises, because we are past “engagement” as a choice which “those who
create” *might as well* make.  “Creative workers” are left with no choice,
they simply *cannot avoid intervention*. To write is part of production,
to narrate is politics. At last, we make a bet on the self-valorization of
mental labour, i.e. on our own entrepreneurial ability. One ought to avoid
begging public funds or establishing subordinate partnerships with
bureaucrats of any level. We aim at relationships on a parity basis,
that's why the political enterprise must also be *autonomous*.>>


    Since the days of Luther Blissett people admire (or despise) you
because you're able to occupy the media landscape. According to the
detractors, you have re-invigorated the spectacle you claim to be
fighting. At the end of *Asce di guerra* you cited a disconsolate comment
by [Immanuel] Wallerstein, that "every form of antisystemic movement" was
“entirely produced by historical capitalism”. How can we sort it out?

    << Wallerstein is not a pessimist, he thinks that historical
capitalism is an immanent system, doomed to end as all the previous
historical societies. In the very piece we cited he explains: "Any
weakness of the system in a direction has strengthened it in another
direction, but not necessarily on the same level! That is the question".
As to "the spectacle", we think it is a meaningless pseudo-concept, it was
simply the solution Debord found for any crossword puzzle clue he put in
his most famous text, e.g. "Laudatory monologue of the existing order" -
solution: "spectacle".  "capital to such a degree of accumulation that it
becomes an image" - solution: "spectacle". Come on, do you really deem it
is an useful category?  As far as we know, to fetishize it has only caused
inaction, frustratrion and grudge. We never "fought the spectacle", we are
not scribblers showing off the maximum of formal radicality and who gives
a fuck if nobody understands. We have no paranoic feelings about
"recuperation", we want to take part to actual social conflicts,
communicate with as many people as possible and aim at concrete
achievements. As to our ability to occupy the media landscape, we always
did it by promoting virtual characters that were the product of real
social relations.>>


    You stated: "Any opening line by Dashiell Hammett is better than James
Joyce's complete works". I think that Joyce deserves more than that, after
all he told "stories" as well, even if in an experimental way. Besides my
personal opinion, you demand and produce "epic" fiction based on a dense
plot and a radical content. Aren't you running the risk of updating
so-called "socialist realism"? Do you think you can avoid that?

    <<That statement kept our mailboxes impenetrable by minimalist short
stories, autobiographical works by people whose lives are of no interest,
and neo-gothic novellas crammed with useless obsolete terms. Having said
this, no way we get close to Zdanov, that was not mythopoesis, it was
*mytho-paresis*, he used to paralyze imagination by imposing a language
that removed experience.  On the contrary, we want to keep the action an
inch from the reader's nose, we want them to dive into a pond of blood and
shit.  "The character is the action, the action is the character".
Certainly we're closer to Francis Scott Fitzgerald than we are to Kim Il
Sung.

    *Asce di guerra* is a peculiar operation, we mixed memoirs and
non-fiction novel with an anti-oleographic point of view which surpasses
the antithesis orthodoxy/heterodoxy. This is *re-visionism* in the
original meaning, "to see again", with new eyes. Our next novel *54* will
be a crazy spy story. The stories take place inside Cary Grant's brain
during Lucky Luciano's neapolitan exile. There are several sub-plots, and
characters from other novels (e.g. the *Rififi* French series). The
McGuffin is a TV set which nobody can repair. Could this be "socialist
realism"? As to Wuming Wu [Riccardo Pedrini], his second novel *Havana
Glam* will be a good example of "socialist surrealism", or "socialist
magic realism".

    As to dense plots: to tell (and listen to) stories has been a basic
need among the humans of all ages. Any community needs stories and myths
to live by. Our literary references are of very wide range: Emilio Salgari
and James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy and Latin-American adventure novels. We
are too devoted to Benjamin Peret to appreciate Ilya Ehrenburg.>>




-------------------------------------
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with "Vo Nguyen Giap digest" in the subject field
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